The word most often used to describe real-life quidditch games is “chaos”, according to the person who oversees much of its play in Canada.
The sport originated in 2005 when two students decided to see how the magical game depicted in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books would play out. But while Harry Potter and his classmates soar through the air on flying broomsticks, the real gamers stay firmly on the ground, “climbing” three-foot lengths of PVC pipe.
“Dodgeballs are flying through the air. People are being pinned against each other. Yeah, it’s a chaotic game,” said Yara Kodershah, general manager of Quidditch Canada. Day 6 guest host Saroja Coelho.
But for many players around the world, including those in Canada, quidditch won’t be “quidditch” for very long.
Three of the sport’s governing bodies recently announced that they are officially changing its name to ‘quadball’, both for branding reasons and a desire to distance themselves from Harry Potter author JK Rowling in light of his controversial comments in recent years.
The name of the sport will change in 2023
Warner Bros., the studio behind the Harry Potter films, owns the trademark over the word quidditch, which has limited the sport’s ability to grow or seek ‘sponsorship and broadcast opportunities’, according to Major League Quadball (MLQ) and US Quadball (USQ).
Additionally, LGBTQ advocacy organizations have accused Rowling of transphobia after a series of inflammatory statements about gender identity, which the leagues say go against quidditch’s “reputation as one of the most progressive in the world on gender equality and inclusion”.
Quidditch Canada says it is “strongly supportive” of this decision by other governing bodies and has announced it will also pursue a name change from January 2023.
He noted Rowling’s “continued anti-trans remarks” as the impetus for change, as well as Indigenous scholars’ claims of cultural appropriation in Rowling’s writings.
“There is the ongoing transphobia that has been expressed in JK Rowling’s comments over the years […] it really contradicts our own values as an organization,” Kodershah told Coelho.
“I would say once these statements were popularized, that’s really when there was kind of an unbridgeable schism between our sport and its stories.”
‘Anger and disdain’ over Rowling’s remarks
Michael Howard, head coach of Canada’s national quidditch team, said “anger and disdain” at Rowling’s statements has long been present in the quidditch community.
“There’s a sense of release, that this community that has been a super welcoming environment, especially in the sports world, can walk away from that,” he said.
The Internaional Quadball Association (IQA) has worked to affirm gender inclusion with an official “gender rule”, which states that a team may field no more than four players who identify as quadball. same sex at the same time.
Each team has six or seven total players on the field, depending on the phase of play. The rule is enforced based on the players’ self-identified genders, according to Kodershah.
“It has nothing to do with assigned gender, it has nothing to do with their physical body. It has exclusively to do with how people identify themselves,” Kodershah said.
“What this rule has allowed us to do is to be a sport designed explicitly for trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people.”
The gender approach to quidditch – or quadball – is part of a growing movement in sport to consider gender in a more inclusive way.
Howard acknowledges that the sport’s inclusive gender rule could end up being a barrier to acceptance of quidditch in international sporting events such as the Olympics.
But he suggests it is governing bodies like the International Olympic Committee that should revise their rules on gender.
“I’m excited to see the increase in mixed sports competitions and to see events with less rigid gender categories,” he said. “But there are a lot of things that will have to change before that. [quidditch at the Olympics] arrived.”
A sport like no other
Middlebury College students Xander Manshel and Alex Benepe were the ones who initially adapted quidditch to the real game. They were curious to see how the magic game depicted in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books would play out in real life.
The sport first spread to college campuses but as its popularity grew, top leagues, national teams and governing bodies were created. Today, quidditch is played by “nearly 600 teams in 40 countries”, according to the IQA.
Howard says that although “most people think it’s a live role-playing game, [quidditch is] a real sport that requires athleticism.”
“From the first free practice, I fell in love with the chaotic nature of the sport and have been playing ever since,” he said.
Written and produced by Mickie Edwards.